Australia extends global Internet piracy lead



Correction: This article had initially stated the latest Breaking Bad season was available exclusively in Australia through Foxtel. This is not true: The latest episodes of the show are also available on iTunes very quickly after broadcast in the US.

news Australia has dramatically extended its lead over other countries when it comes to the levels of Australians pirating popular US television shows, according to new statistics released overnight by TorrentFreak, with the limited availability of such content in Australia believed to be driving the trend.

Last night, the series finale of popular AMC show Breaking Bad was released in the US through cable networks. The episode quickly made an appearance on popular file-sharing sites, predominantly using the BitTorrent protocol. According to file-sharing news site TorrentFreak, the show was downloaded more than 500,000 times just 12 hours after the first copy appeared online.

“Based on a sample of more than 10,000 people who shared the site via a BitTorrent client, we see that Australia is once again in the lead with 18 percent of the total,” the site wrote. “This means that a large group of Aussies prefer to torrent the episode instead of watching it on the pay TV network Foxtel. In the U.S. and the U.K the legal availability on Netflix couldn’t prevent people from pirating the final Breaking Bad episode either. With 14.5 and 9.3 percent these countries are second and third respectively. India and Canada complete the top five with 5.7 and 5.1 percent of the total.”

In Australia, Breaking Bad is distributed in new release through pay TV giant Foxtel, including through the company’s Internet-based streaming service Play. It is also available through Apple’s iTunes platform locally hours after it is broadcast in the US. The final half season of the show costs $24.99 for eight episodes through iTunes, meaning individual episodes come down at a price of $3.12 in aggregate. This situation means that there are quick and legal mechanisms for Australians to watch the latest episodes of Breaking Bad as they become available in the US.

According to figures compiled by TorrentFreak with respect to Game of Thrones in April this year, at that stage Australia was the third most prevalent nation for Game of Thrones downloads, with some 9.9 percent of those downloading the latest episode residing in Australia. On a per capita basis, due to Australia’s small population, this means that Australia is the world’s most prolific nation when it comes to pirating Game of Thrones. “The number three spot for Australia is impressive and with a population of just over 22 million people it has the highest piracy rate,” wrote TorrentFreak at the time. “Looking at other cities we see that most downloads come from London, before Paris and Sydney.”

The situation has generated substantial debate in Australia. In April, for example, US Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich published an impassioned statement appealing to Australians to stop breaching the copyright of US cable giant HBO by illegally downloading its popular Game of Thrones television show in record numbers.

However, those opposed to accessing popular US TV shows show through Foxtel or rival platform iTunes have frequently pointed out the technical restrictions inherent to such platforms. In addition, many see Apple’s iTunes as an overly restrictive platform which only deploys content to PCs and Macs — but not to dedicated set-top boxes.

IPTV player Quickflix has recently announced its intention to bring shows such as Game of Thrones to Australia more quickly.

Anyone surprised by these new figures about Breaking Bad downloads? I’m certainly not. Recently it seems that virtually everyone I know has gotten on the Breaking Bad bandwagon, and very few people I know are willing to buy the show through Foxtel or iTunes, due primarily to what they see as the technical limitations of those platforms. Most of my friends and colleagues are in their late 20’s or mid-30’s. They all have substantial disposable income and spend a solid proportion of it on entertainment and art. What this says to me is that there is a massive untapped market for great content in Australia — a market which is currently satiating its demand for shows like Breaking Bad illegally.

Personally, I don’t really believe there is a basis for pirating shows like Breaking Bad on the basis of what many see as the technical annoyances of platforms such as Foxtel and iTunes. I’ve downloaded quite a few pieces of content through iTunes (we have a PC connected to our TV in our loungeroom, as well as an Apple TV), and although it has a lot of annoyances and is quite expensive, the platform does indeed, at a basic level, function for its purpose. As I wrote in April this year with respect to the then-similar situation with respect to Game of Thrones:

“Very interesting. It really does appear now — with Game of Thrones hitting Australia through iTunes just a day or so after it hits the US and a whole season available for purchase in HD for the price of a single DVD ($33.99) — that Australians’ self-righteous justifications for pirating Game of Thrones are pretty well dead. How can anyone in Australia possibly justify pirating Game of Thrones, when it’s so easily, quickly and cheaply available over iTunes in such high quality?

Australians have been arguing for most of the past decade that high rates of local piracy were due to the fact that we simply couldn’t get the same content as easily and quickly as US residents could. It’s fascinating to me that we continue to pirate Game of Thrones at a record rate, despite the fact that the content companies have clearly listened to these complaints and have tried to rectify them with legal alternatives. What does this say about ourselves? That we want Game of Thrones for free no matter how much it cost the creators of the show to make it? This bears a great deal of thought.”

To draw a parallel with the video gaming industry, people still bought video games on PCs before Valve’s Steam platform came along — it was just more annoying, expensive and restrictive to do so. Now they buy more games than they did before, because it’s easier and cheaper. The TV industry doesn’t really have a ideal equivalent of Steam yet, and more people would buy more TV shows if it did, but that doesn’t mean there’s a legitimate technical justification for pirating TV content. You can technically get the newest Breaking Bad episodes legally — it’s just annoying to do so, and expensive.

Image credit: AMC


  1. I agree wholeheartedly that iView is a great model.

    However it is a streamed service, and once again many Internet connections in Australia (like my own) suffer from the constant “Loading…. please wait… Loading…”.

    Until a ubiquitous broadband service provides adequate speeds for all Australians, it remains a service inaccessible many.

  2. As long as the TV/Movie industry ignores what happened with the music industry this will be a problem. Make the content available and people will pay for it.

  3. I torrent shows, then I buy the box set… That’s how I justify it.

    Foxtel is a waste of money, you pay what $80 then extras to get specific channels, each of which are bundled with packages you don’t really want.

  4. These stats are flawed Due to time differences it needed to be 24 Hours to be statistically significant.

    The problem is that in Australia it was available from ~ mid afternoon through prime time but in the USA it would not be available till ~midnight and then morning. If you took the next 12 hours into account in isolation we would be well down.

  5. Go figure. Australians “steal” content which is available here at a cost of $60 per month but offered for free in the US.

    • Free?

      I don’t think so. You do pay for the Cable service over there. Its just that EVERYONE(ok not everyone but most) pays for it so the cost is much lower than here, where there is little to no competition.

      • Thought it was available on Hulu, but it appears that it is on Netflix in both the US and the UK for about $10 a month.

        Still, Australians are bereft of choice for media access and I have little sympathy for IP holders who blatantly try to maximise their profit and then cry poor when people choose to pirate the content instead.

  6. The issue here of course is that the Foxtel model is flawed.
    $60 a month for a bunch of stuff that not everybody wants, yet this is the ONLY lawful manner in which to watch the content in any reasonable timeframe after it is aired in other parts of the world.

    You could compare it to buying a new car and wanting an Air Conditioner too. Except to get the Air Conditioner, you have to pay for the add-on pack 1 and 2, which gives you a sunroof, combined Tape/CD/MP3 player, cup holder, tow ball and bar, child locks, headlight protectors, and a fuzzy dice with the car manufacture logo on it. All just to get Air Conditioning!

    The difference here however, is the car market is very evolved and gets the average consumer.

    Foxtel however is a captive market and doesn’t give a rats axe what the average consumer thinks, and can’t be bothered to think outside the square at what those “that Australia is once again in the lead with 18 percent” figures mean. Customers are willing to pay for what they want to watch and when, but are not willing to pay for the rest of the stuff that is forced upon them.

      • I bought a car about 6 years ago, where I really wanted the side impact airbags. To get them, I also had to buy the leather upholstery and sunroof. Apparently at that time the only people who wanted side airbags were those who’d buy the ‘Luxury Pack’.

  7. People at work talk about Breaking Bad all the time, haven’t seen any of it yet.
    Must put this on my to do list.
    Oh and yeah not surprised about Australia leading the race in illegal downloads as it’s been put before (and I’m sure will be put in these comments again) Foxtel model pricing, time of access, internet speed, etc.

  8. I noticed Channel 10 are advertising some of their most popular shows are being broadcast within hours of the US play. The problem is, those shows are available in HD in the US, on 10 they look like grainy rubbish recorded in the 90’s. I’d prefer to wait an extra day to download an HD version than watch anything on 10.

    And yes, the idea that I would ever subscribe to Foxtel is hilarious. Even if I was worth so much $1k didn’t even register as a concern, I still wouldn’t get Foxtel because there’s no value in their product (unless you highly value sports, and I don’t watch any sport).

    • Wait a short while after it’s broadcast in the US (or the UK, for BBC/Ch4), and then you can watch it here, in HD, *without ads*.

      The lack of ads is something which local broadcasters and content purveyors seem to ignore as an incentive to download.

      • Personally I can even live with the ads if it is convenient and the content is good.

        What annoys me about the channel 10 offering is that it is buggy and difficult to skip forward and back. Being hit with the same set of ads several times because a the sever connection resets is an incredibly frustrating experience.

        Regarding HD availablity: not being able to watch your show in HD is definitely a first world problem.

        • I was using the channel ten steaming service a while back for Master Chef I didn’t mind ads I did mine seeing the same ad 5 times in a row, and the stream being interrupted for the ad. The issues are perceived value no matter what you charge in Aust if we can easily point to a service in the US that offer the same for a fraction of the cost your coming to come smelling like a rip off artist. Usability when a “free” service provides an outright better product than you do there is a problem. The last is customer inertia, this where the music industry suffered the most, they didn’t offer an alternative for so long that customers got used to not paying or not paying much for the content, there was no way they where going to be able to push prices back up to pre digital levels.

  9. I already have Foxtel, couldn’t even tell you what time it’s on.

    Downloaded it in the afternoon only hours after it came out in 720p.

  10. > ABC’s stellar iView app

    IView? You have to be joking. Painfully low resolution, constantly stopping, can’t buffer or download, and those few shows I do look for are never available.

  11. Renai, this year’s episodes of Breaking Bad actually have been available through iTunes in Australia. That’s how I just watched the finale. They’re also available through EzyDVD’s new Ezyflix service.

    Granted, the iTunes option is drying up for HBO shows and perhaps all other Showcase programs as whatever new deals Foxtel have negotiated start to kick in (Sons of Anarchy isn’t available on iTunes, for instance), but alternatives to Foxtel has been available for Breaking Bad and the piracy figures are still through the roof, so the crux of the problem remains unchanged.

    That iTunes and EzyFlix have to wait a day to release the episode no doubt eliminates the appeal of those options for a lot of people, and I can understand why. Avoiding the Internet all day and knowing that so many others watched it last night has been a bummer (the huge, watermark-free 1080p copy was something of a solace though).

    It’s also hard not to feel messed about when the allocation of premium shows is so arbitrary on Foxtel, which may then impact its iTunes availability. Sons of Anarchy and Justified air on FX in the US, which is available in a basic cable package. However, Sons airs here on the premium Showcase channel and isn’t available on iTunes AU, while Justified is on our FX in the basic Foxtel package and *is* available on iTunes AU.

    If you instead look at it from a studio standpoint, Justified and Breaking Bad are both produced by Sony, yet one is basic and the other premium on Foxtel, while American audiences get to enjoy both in their (more competitively priced) basic cable package. Ditto Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy (both distributed overseas by Fox International and on basic cable in the US).

    Those trying to watch shows legitimately without forking out for a Foxtel subscription can feel like they’re at the mercy of contractual whims with no consideration for a consistent service… which I guess we are.

    Does the ACCC have any grounds to look into this? I suppose TV shows have always been licensed by one channel exclusively, and only now are we used to having other options, so perhaps there’s nothing to be done.

  12. Yeah I would have to put my hand up as one of those evil bastards that downloaded the entire series for nothing. I refuse to give money to Rupert Murdoch and I refuse to buy specific locked-in hardware when I already have a working setup.

    On the other hand I loved the show so much that at the earliest opportunity I paid 95 UK Pounds to pre-order the collectors edition Bluray set from Amazon UK.

    The income that a studio makes from a show does not begin and end with the initial airing.

  13. Could I, using either Foxtel or itunes, download episodes of Game of Thrones onto my android phone so I can watch them on the bus,on the way in to work the next morning?

  14. We’re used to our TV being convenient & supported by advertising (e.g. “free” to the consumer).

    They’re trying to turn it into a more convenient version of JB Hifi, which’ll never capture the same market as a service that’s closer to free-to-air television.

  15. The other thing to consider, Renai, is what happened to GoT once Foxtel yanked all the rights from iTunes.

    Remember that, as of S3, anyone who wants GoT from iTunes (in Aus, anyway) now has to wait until Foxtel finish airing the season as they have exclusive first broadcast rights.

    Who’s to say that the same won’t happen in the future, with one provider locking down all new content from other distribution channels until they finish airing the entire season?

  16. Out of all the options mentioned steam is the only one that works on the minor operating system.

  17. It’s not only the fact that the content is harder to access legitimately in Australia, but it’s also far more expensive here than the US. Speaking from a moral point of view, why *should* we pay more than the content is worth just because we live in Australia?

    I say no thanks, if you don’t want to provide it for the same price and same method as the US then I’ll find other more convenient methods that suit me.

  18. How can you say we can justify ourselves? Yea its available almost instantly.

    Try having a sync speed of 1.2mb and being 8KM away from the exchange. Each episode takes over 9 hours to download.

    When we get fibre to the home then ill consider paying for stuff

Comments are closed.